The Grass Is Always Greener: Next Door's Baby @TheatreAtTabard

Keeping up appearances is what, at first, it seems at the heart of the story of Next Door's Baby. There's a less-than-friendly rivalry between the comfortably living Hennessys and the struggling O'Briens. But as this self-described musical play unfolds,  a story about two women struggling to break free from the oppressive life of 1950s Dublin emerges. The drama is sometimes more interesting than the music, but some evocative characterisations and an enthusiastic cast make this piece work. First presented at the Orange Tree Theatre some years ago, it's currently having a revival at the Theatre At the Tabard

The two women at the centre of the story are neighbours. Their mothers, however, are at each other's throats. Mrs O'Brien is a widow struggling to make ends meet, serving only porridge. While Mrs Hennessy lives a life of comfort, wearing her best fur coat even to mail a letter. And while the time and place put more value on keeping up appearances, just beneath the surface of both families are secrets they are desperate to conceal at any cost. 

Bernie Gaughan's book neatly charts the priorities and changes inspired by her family experiences. And for a small-scale production such as this, the enthusiastic performances fill in the gaps and bring these characters to life. 

Amber Deasy as the overlooked Orla O'Brien and Shaylyn Gibson as Miriam Hennessy are engaging as the daughters caught up in the pressure to keep up appearances. Although their predicaments are not quite the same and in this production, you are left wondering the fate of one of them. There's also a strong performance by Ben Hannigan as the downtrodden Dickie who has to make important decisions about his own life. 

And at the story's centre, there is a Bonny Baby competition, and the neighbours battle out who will be the winner. But in this production, none of that seems to matter. And there's a rousing finale that's also a tribute to Kilburn to distract us. The grass may not be greener on any side of the fence, but it's hard to care when there's Irish dancing to send you home. 

Directed by Keith Strachan with musical direction by Beth Jerem, Next Door's Baby is at the Theatre At The Tabard until 27 May.


Photos by Charles Flint

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